• Ian Dalton tells NHS leaders it will be more than five years before the supply of nurses meets demand
  • For medics he says it can be achieved within five years
  • NHS Improvement and England have indicated new government funding is needed for education and training 

It will be more than five years before the number of nurses the NHS needs are available to it, the chief executive of NHS Improvement has warned senior NHS leaders.

Ian Dalton, speaking ahead of the anticipated NHS long term plan and national workforce strategies, said he believed that by the end of the first five years of these plans, supply and demand of the medical workforce would break even. 

However, he said that the shortfall of nurses was harder to solve, and that he expected reaching breakeven would take longer than five years.

The comments were made earlier this month at a closed session held by NHS Providers, but recorded in a chair’s public report to her board.

The note states: “[Ian Dalton’s] intention is that by the end of five years we will be at break even in supply and demand of medical staff, nursing he thinks will be harder, and breakeven will take longer than five years.

“NHSI is working with challenged trusts on retention rates and on international recruitment at scale, and on return to practice, though numbers from that will be relatively small, and training will increase numbers.”

NHS Improvement has previously reported the number of vacant posts in the health service has risen by almost 10 per cent in the first quarter of this year, with almost 42,000 vacant nursing posts. 

Nurses’ training lasts less than five years, but increasing the supply would require recruiting and funding enough places, and/or maintaining a good inflow from overseas, along with bolstering retention.

Mr Dalton, and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, have previously indicated that increasing staffing supply will rely on the government allocating additional funding in the spending review next year. Education and training budgets were not covered by the government’s settlement for NHS England announced in the summer.

Health Education England could not confirm any specific nursing recruitment targets but said it would be working with NHS Improvement to grow the nursing workforce through the long term plan.

Donna Kinnair, Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary, said senior NHS leaders needed to decide on “a swift course of action” to reduce nursing vacanacies.

“Five more years of delay and underinvestment would see the nurse vacancy level rise to 48,000 in England with untold consequences for rising patient demand,” Dame Kinnair said.

“If the government and NHS England want to attract more people to a career in nursing, they must do more than tinker. The situation calls for nothing less than an investment of £1 billion per year for nurse education,” she added.